The Present Perfect Tense in British and American English

There aren’t many British and American grammar differences but a notable one is how we use the present perfect and simple past.
In this video we’re joined by Jennifer ESL of English with Jennifer and together we explore how we use the words just, yet and already on each side of the Atlantic.
You’ll learn how to use the present perfect to talk about recent actions and give news and you’ll also learn about some interesting differences in how we use the present perfect and simple past tense in the UK and US.
Click here to learn about lots more British and American differences.
Click here to see more grammar videos.

British and American grammar differences – present perfect vs. simple past

Hello everyone. I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
And today we’re looking at the present perfect and how we use it a little differently.
And we’ve got some help.
Yes. Our good friend Jennifer from English with Jennifer is going to join us.
Jennifer’s American, like me.
And she knows lots about the way Americans use this verb tense so this is going to be really useful.
And fun!
The first thing to know is British and American English speakers both use the present perfect in very similar ways. Americans just use it a little less often.
In this video we’re going to look at some situations where this frequency difference is most noticeable.

I’ve lost twenty dollars.
Oh that’s funny, I’ve just found twenty dollars.
Well then it’s mine.
What was the serial number?
What?

In American and British English, we often use the present perfect to talk about past actions that have relevance in the present. So there’s an important connection between the past and the present.

I’ve lost twenty dollars.
I’ve found twenty dollars.

These past actions have effects in the present. That’s why Jay and Vicki both use the present perfect here.
Sometimes past actions are very important in the present because they happened very recently.

OK then. Bye. Oh. Your mother’s just called.
Oh what did she want?
She says you never call her.

‘Just’ indicates that Jay’s mother called very recently.
We can use ‘just’ with the present perfect in American and British English, but there’s another possibility.

Hello.
Hi Jay, did you just call me?
Ah sorry, I just sat on my phone and it dialed your number.
Not to worry. Bye.
Bye-bye.

In American and British English, we can also use ‘just’ with the simple past to talk about recent events. So what’s the difference about the way American and British people use ‘just’?
When we’re giving news in British English we generally use the present perfect.

Oh, your mother’s just called.
Oh, what did she want?

When we’re giving news in American English, we often use the simple past.

Your sister just called.
Oh really? What did she want?

So both these sentences are possible in both varieties.
It’s just that we use the present perfect more frequently in British English.

Thirty-two, ninety, sixteen, fifty-one, eleven and the bonus ball, forty-eight.
I just won the lottery!
Really?
Yeah.
Oh. I think that’s my ticket. I’ve just won the lottery!

OK, so that’s how we use ‘just’. Let’s look at how we use the present perfect with ‘yet’ and ‘already’.

Oh hi.
Have you eaten yet?
Err, yes. I’ve already eaten.
OK. I’ll make something for myself.

The words ‘yet’ and ‘already’ indicate a time up to now or until now. That relation to the present time means we commonly use them with the present perfect. That’s true in both British and American English.
In American English, especially spoken English, you’ll often hear us use these words with the simple past, too.

I’m going outside to practice soccer.
Wait a sec. Did you do your homework yet?
Yeah, I already did it.
OK.

In British English, these sentences would be unusual. With ‘yet’ and ‘already’ we usually use the present perfect, not the simple past.
So when do Americans use the present perfect and when do they use the simple past?
In written English and when we’re speaking carefully, we often use the present perfect with ‘yet’ and ‘already’. But when we’re speaking informally, we often use the simple past. ‘Did you do it yet?’ sounds a little more informal than ‘Have you done it yet?’, especially if we use the less careful pronunciation ‘Didja do it yet?.
And there’s something else. My theory is ‘Did you do it yet?’ can sound just a little more urgent in American English than ‘Have you done it yet?’
I agree with that, Vicki. Let’s share one more example.

Did you do it yet?
What?
You know.
What? Oh I forgot!
You didn’t pay the electric bill!
Sorry.

And that’s it. Now you know how we both use the present perfect with ‘just’, ‘yet’ and ‘already’.
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And to Jennifer’s too, so you don’t miss any of her great videos.
Bye now.
Bye.
Click here to learn about lots more British and American differences.
Click here to see more grammar videos.

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